Can you imagine a time without new entries in the “Star Trek” galaxy? If you’re under 50, it’s nearly impossible. But the 1970s were a dry time for the original Trekkies, whose passion was kept afloat by a thriving fandom and the rise of the convention circuit. It took until 1979 for the drought to end with the release of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” What only the most hardcore fans know, though, is that the Enterprise’s new voyage was supposed to begin a few years earlier, and that the movie was actually a heavily reworked series pilot.
“Star Trek: Phase II” was set to bring back almost the entire original cast — Leonard Nimoy declined to return — alongside new crew members, including the Vulcan Xon (David Gautreaux) and the “esper” Ilia (Persis Khambatta), who ended up appearing in the film. With new sets, new costumes, and new, effects-heavy scripts in the pipeline, Paramount and its president, Michael Eisner — yup, the future Disney CEO — began to panic at the series’ mounting budget. However, the fanbase’s potential reaction to a series cancelation caused anxiety, too. To save face, make the best of the sunken costs, and keep “Star Trek” alive, “Phase II” quietly began transforming into a movie in 1978, with “The Day the Earth Stood Still” director Robert Wise at the helm. The film revitalized the franchise; later, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” reused a handful of the concepts and scripts left over from the series’ failed launch.